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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Spy Next Door (Blu-ray)
The Spy Next Door (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG // May 18, 2010 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 29, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
It's a sad that Hollywood has trouble finding a vehicle for one of the biggest movie stars in the world.  Jackie Chan is a mega-superstar in Asia and well known through out the world for his innovative blending of kung-fu action with slapstick comedy and jaw-dropping stunts.  He's filled theaters around the globe with the movies that he's made in Hong Kong, but for some reason Hollywood just won't accept that he's a star.  Instead of casting him in the lead role, he's often saddled with a comedian in buddy pictures (Rush Hour, Shanghai Knights) or having to play what amounts to a supporting role (Around the World in 80 Days, The Forbidden Kingdom).  In the few times he's actually had the lead in a film made in the west, he's been saddled with a horrible script (The Medallion, The Tuxedo).  I've been a big fan of Chan for a long time, and though I have high hopes for each of his films (he certainly deserves a big Hollywood paycheck) I've always been disappointed with the vehicles that he's been pushed into when he goes to Hollywood.  His latest foray into US theaters, The Spy Next Door, is also a bit of a disappointment, but it does have some redeeming values.  It's a fun, if predictable family movie that even the youngest children can enjoy and the parents can endure without too much effort.

Bob Ho (Jackie Chan) has been dating his divorced next door neighbor (who has three kids) Gillian (Amber Valletta) for the past three months.  She's madly in love with him.  He's funny, kind, and dependable.  The only problem is that her kids hate him because he's so boring.  They think he's a stiff pen importer, but in reality he's a spy from China sent to help the CIA track down a group of Russian agents who are using the US as a base to develop a bacteria that will destroy the world's oil reserves.  (Why are they not just developing the weapon in Russia??)
After capturing the leader of the Russian spy ring, Bob quits his job so that he can settle down and have a normal life with Gillian and her family.  He even volunteers to take care of her kids when she has to attend to a family medical emergency out of state, figuring it'll give him time to win the kids over.  But when the leader of the Russian no-goodniks escapes and tracks the secret formula to Bob's home computer, he finds himself battling a group muscular foreign agents while trying to take care of a house full of unruly kids.
My kids are older now, but a few years ago I would have considered this a perfect 'pizza and a movie' night flick.  I was always struggling to find a movie that I could sit through that they would enjoy.  Ya know, something without talking animals or with a plot so sappy that I'd fear slipping into a diabetic coma.  This movie is definitely better than a lot of the 'family friendly' movies that are being released now, and it does have its moments.

Of course the plot is very familiar.  Taking a page from Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier, this film has a 'haven't I seen this before' feel to it, and it's pretty easy to figure out exactly what's going to happen from the very beginning.  The script is typical and by the book.  Opening action scene to establish Jackie's character?  Check!  Heart-felt scene where Jackie bonds with the oldest daughter who feels rejected?  Double Check!  Comic scene where the secret agent has trouble getting the four-year-old dressed and uses his fancy spy skills to accomplish the task?  Check!  Big action finale followed by the wrap up where it looks like Gillian is going to reject the true love of her life?  Check!  Looks like we've got ourselves a script boys!
The acting was surprisingly mediocre for a Hollywood film.  Yeah, it's hard to find kids who are also good actors, but the children in this movie just weren't too convincing.  On top of that Amber Valletta had almost no chemistry with Jackie Chan.  The two never really felt like they were a couple in love.  Chan did his usual good job though and the movie was always more interesting when he was on the screen.
Jackie Chan is getting a bit old now, and it obvious that he doesn't have the energy and speed that he did 20 years ago.  He does a bit more 'wire-fu' than he did back in the day too.  Even so his action scenes are good and he manages to use a lot of household objects in his fights, a trademark that is still as fun as it ever was.  In his Hong Kong movies there's usually one showcase stunt that is really impressive and this movie didn't have that, which is a shame.  But fans will still be happy with what does end up on screen.  Even an older Jackie doing what he's done countless times before is still very enjoyable.

On the positive side, there were some humorous moments that will get the kids laughing and bring a smile to the face of parents.  The 4 year old daughter proclaiming "it doesn't look like they have chicken tenders here" when Bob takes the group to a Chinese restaurant was funny for me since my youngest said the same thing when he was that age, and the running gag of the escaped Russian leader trying to find clothes to change into was amusing too.  Other parts didn't work so well.  The female Russian agent spitting out fake teeth and having her lipstick smeared over her face after having a door close on her while she was walking through was cringe-inducing and some of the wire-fu scenes stood out as being awkward and bad (where Jackie catches the youngest girl with a pool net for example.)  Still, it's a family movie that's fun, and there aren't too many of those around.
The Blu-ray Disc:

This release comes with both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD in a single width Blu-ray case.
The 1.78:1 AVC MPEG-4 1080p image looks pretty good.  It's about average for a Blu-ray release, which means that it's not bad at all.  The level of detail is very good, which ironically makes Jackie Chan look a bit older than he probably wanted to appear.  The colors are nice and the skin tones look accurate.  The black are a little uneven in places and there are a couple of scenes that appear a bit soft, but these problems are the exception rather than the rule. 
The film comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is very good.  One of my pet peeves are action films that have great dynamic audio effects during the battle scenes but then collapse to a basic stereo soundtrack immediately afterwards.  This movie doesn't do that.  Even in the more ordinary scenes like when Jackie is walking through a school, the full soundstage is used to create a nice atmosphere.  Of course when the action scenes begin the LFE channel kicks in and the surround speakers get down to some serious work.  It's a nice sounding movie overall.
The disc also comes with a couple of light weight featurettes.  The first is Jackie Chan: Stunt Master and Mentor which runs a tad over 10 minutes.  Here the cast and crew gather around to say nice things about the star.  It's a fluff piece but still fun to watch.  Adventures in Acting with the Kids of The Spy Next Door is an 11 minute piece that interviews the kids and Jackie who discuss what it was like working together.  There's a cute piece where the young 5-year-old girl talks about getting bit by the pet snapping turtle (she figures he was annoyed by all of the action on the set that was taking place at the time) and forgives him for it.  It was incredibly cute.
Finally there's a gag reel, but since it's the exact same thing that runs at the beginning of the credits it seem pretty pointless to include it as an extra.  
Final Thoughts:
This isn't one of Jackie Chan's best movies, but it is a little bit better than most of the work he's done in Hollywood.  It's a predictable and safe family film that young kids will enjoy and parents can tolerate.  When my two boys were under 10, I was always searching for a movie like this that they could watch and I could tolerate (by the time the oldest was 13 I had given up on the search.  "Screw it, we're watching Terminator."  Movie night has been more enjoyable since.)  If you're looking for something to watch with the youngsters you could do much worse than this.  Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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